American studies introduces new minor, course

The Department of American Studies is offering a new minor starting this semester that examines and questions ethnic categories.

The Comparative and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies minor will explore traits and similarities between cultures and distinguish between race and ethnicity, said Allan Isaac, an associate professor in the Department of American Studies.

“It’s about communities and conflicts at the same time,” Isaac said. “Race and ethnicity, those two categories tend to be confused.”

Isaac, who helped create the CCRES track, said the new minor includes courses that are already offered in the Department of American Studies along with a new introductory one. The minor will feature the course “Introduction to Comparative Race Studies,” Isaac said.

“The minors usually reframe courses currently offered and encourage other types of classes to fit into that minor,” he said.

Students must complete six courses, according to the Department of American Studies’ website. The requirements include the introductory course in comparative race and ethnic studies, a comparative race and ethnic studies Capstone Seminar and three more electives that relate to race and ethnicity.

Students will examine and compare ethnicity and race in different contexts, which are sometimes hard to understand, Isaac said.

“It gives the student the power to raise questions about … the creation of these categories and actually discover experiences, stories and histories which could not otherwise be covered,” Isaac said.

He said a student with a minor in CCRES would be able to articulate the diversity and the differences that make up New Jersey’s population.

“It is important to have cultural competence, for one thing, especially in New Jersey,” Isaac said. “These [racial] categories are both real, but also very hazy and sloppy.”

Students will gain a perspective on cultural traits as well as ethnic categories, he said. They must be familiar with multiple cultures that make up these ethnic categories, so they can competently compare them, Issac said.

“American studies traditionally has dealt with history and English,” he said. “The CCRES minor falls under American studies, but it is a sustained study of race and ethnicity.”

Students will also gain the ability to examine the flaws of ethnic categories. He said many people are misinformed about these categories.

“Middle Eastern Americans, for example, are actually grouped as white,” Isaac said. “Arab-Americans can’t mark anything besides white in the Census.”

CCRES was approved in December and put into the University Degree Navigator in January, Isaac said.

Upon learning that the University does not offer an ethnic studies program, he set out to create the CCRES minor three years ago, he said.

“We don’t have an ethnic studies department at Rutgers, unlike other universities,” he said. “Other departments were very supportive of this initiative.”

Isaac teaches the courses “Asian American Cultural Theory,” “United States Empire” and “Introduction to American Studies.”

Ryan Ramones, a School of Engineering junior, said the CCRES minor is especially important in New Jersey.

“By having this minor, it opens up a whole plethora of opportunities to explore the global environment around us,” he said.

Ramones said the diversity at the University and its surrounding area can be overwhelming.

“[In] high school, you’re kind of in a whole bubble, but when you come to college, you have people from all these intersections of life,” he said.

Ethan Lu, a University alumnus, said the new minor is necessary at the University.

“I even had a conversation with a friend the other day how [CCRES] is needed,” he said. “We need to focus on different ethnicities interacting with one another.”

While various departments focus on the study of individual ethnicities, Lu said it is better to think of them all in the comprehensive minor program.

“It opens dialogue — that’s probably the most valuable thing,” he said. “Even though Rutgers can boast diversity, everyone has a tendency to attach themselves to their own group and not interact outside their groups.”

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